Westworld: Live Without Limits Weekend. Photo by Merrick Ales.


Inaugural Arrow Awards Honor Top Brand Activations

Marketing innovations were SXSW highlights

SXSW has long been known as a platform where up-and-coming musicians, filmmakers, entrepreneurs and technologists could make a name for themselves. Every year, some of the best and brightest come away from the event with awards that recognize their work.

After the annual SXSW dust settles, Grulke Prize winners often find their way onto major music festival lineups, many SXSW Film Award winners find distribution partners, and SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event and Interactive Innovation Award winners catch the attention of potential clients and investors. More recently, though, SXSW has become a premiere destination for brands and creative agencies looking to make a splash.

To celebrate the creativity and innovation from agencies and activations at the event, the SXSW Creative Experience “Arrow” Awards were created this year. “In the lead-up to this year’s event, we were excited to hear what some of our partners were planning, and we wanted to recognize that creative spirit in some small way,” SXSW CEO Roland Swenson said in a statement announcing the awards. “We consider the three inaugural awards to be the groundwork for a larger awards program at SXSW 2019, rewarding creative work by both brands and agencies.”

“SXSW is a very unique stage for the purpose of our brand appeal and accelerating the open innovation.”

The inaugural Arrow Awards were chosen both by select SXSW staffers and leaders from Austin-based creative agencies and were awarded in three categories: Best Immersive Experience, Best Use of Technology and the Spirit of SXSW.

Westworld: Live Without Limits Weekend. Photo by Diego Donamaria

Westworld: Live Without Limits Weekend. Photo by Diego Donamaria


Best Immersive Experience

The Arrow Award for Best Immersive Experience at SXSW 2018 went to HBO and Giant Spoon for “Live Without Limits Weekend,” an immersive Westworld experience.

SXSW is no stranger to faithful re-creations of film and television sets. From an actual Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant from AMC’s Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad to a Mr. Robot inspired recreation of Coney Island in downtown Austin (complete with a 100 foot tall Ferris wheel), activations like these offer fans a unique chance to physically set foot in their favorite shows. However, none have managed to captivate audiences quite like HBO and Giant Spoon’s meticulously detailed reconstruction of the town of Sweetwater did this year.

“In recreating Westworld at SXSW, our goal was for fans to feel like they were stepping off the train and looking down the main drag into Sweetwater,” said Steven Cardwell, director of program marketing at HBO. “We wanted to inspire that sense of wonder or apprehension or curiosity that takes over when a new guest visits the park in the show.”

Westworld would be nothing without its hosts, though. While we’re still (thankfully) a few years away from lifelike androids, a cast featuring 60 actors, 6 stunt people, 5 bands, and 6 horses was assembled for “Live Without Limits Weekend” to play out elaborate narratives, just like in the acclaimed HBO series. The final script for the activation clocked in at 444 pages.

HBO set the bar for critically acclaimed, high-quality programming years ago and, along with Giant Spoon, did the same for experiential marketing at SXSW this year.

“We also want people to look at our marketing as a standard-bearer, just like they would with our content. The universe of the show makes it a marketer’s dream to find new ways to keeps fans engaged, and we’re always looking to go beyond the impression of a general advertisement to create an experience that feels both authentic and impactful,” Cardwell explained.

Sony WoW Studio. Photo by Randy & Jackie Smith

Sony WoW Studio. Photo by Randy & Jackie Smith


Best Use of Technology

The Arrow Award for Best Use of Technology at SXSW 2018 went to the brand strategy team from Sony Corporation for its WoW Studio, which returned to SXSW after debuting in 2017.

“Our goal at SXSW is to promote Sony’s passion towards creativity and our pioneering spirit, as well as accelerating our open innovation, by demonstrating ongoing projects, incorporating prototypes and Sony’s technologies as the ‘Experiential Exhibition’,” said Shigeki (Simon) Mori, General Manager of Brand Strategy Department at Sony Corporation.

With projects like aibo, an incredibly realistic robotic puppy that not only responds to petting but actually learns and develops its own personality, the Sony WoW Factory was crafted with an emphasis on a playful, interactive experience. In A(i)R Hockey, one of several colorful augmented reality games, 3 players tried to score against one another with both a physical puck and multiple virtual ones projected in real-time on a round air hockey table.

“We believe there are many benefits by sticking to an ‘experiential’ exhibition instead of an ‘explanatory’ one,” Shigeki explained. “The discussion becomes very active and enjoyable after our guests enjoyed each experience very much.”

Being able to see and hear from visitors first hand is also very valuable to Sony’s engineers, creators and researchers, according to Shigeki: “They can bring back these true experiences towards the next development stage.”

Through 11 projects and prototypes that blend art with VR, robotics, high-speed vision sensors and spatial audio technology, Sony’s WoW Studio let attendees experience technologies that would have seemed like science fiction even a short time ago.

“[A]ll of us involved in WoW Studio are deeply moved by being recognized with this award and are appreciative of the title that really resonates with us,” Shigeki added in response to winning the Arrow Award. “SXSW is a very unique stage for the purpose of our brand appeal and accelerating the open innovation.”

Meow Wolf: Fractallage. Photo by Hubert Vestil

Meow Wolf: Fractallage. Photo by Hubert Vestil


Spirit of SXSW Award

The Spirit of SXSW Award went to the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based art collective Meow Wolf, for Fractallage (a pop-up installation and party) and The Atrium (a VR experience that was part of the Virtual Cinema exhibition).

It would have been pretty hard to miss Meow Wolf at SXSW 2018. Even if you didn’t catch a screening of Meow Wolf: Origin Story during the SXSW Film Festival or experience the Fractallage event, you might have seen a Meow Wolf ball cap on Shakey Graves during his performance at the SXSW Outdoor Stage.

Known for their immersive, often psychedelic and collaborative art installations, Meow Wolf’s DIY outsider spirit came to life in their wide-ranging SXSW participation. Along with some help from local Austin artists FTBDC Collective and Bild Art, Meow Wolf transformed Empire Garage into Fractallage, an immersive pop-up art installation that transformed the venue into a colorful playground.

Meow Wolf also pushed art into new territories with the debut of The Atrium, the collective’s incredible first foray into Virtual Reality. Building on the story of the acclaimed immersive exhibition The House of Eternal Return (developed with Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin), The Atrium took viewers on a voyage through the surreal lullaby of the multiverse — and unravelled a mystery spanning multiple dimensions.

Meow Wolf truly embodied the Spirit of SXSW for the creative way they brought together art, technology and storytelling with a DIY attitude.

These three Arrow Award winners have set a high bar for future participants. It will be thrilling to see what future activations will bring to SXSW.

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